A bill introduced in the Georgia House of Representatives would legalize the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana. Georgia has had a limited medical marijuana program since 2015. Under the program, patients with one or more qualifying medical conditions who register with the state may possess cannabis oil with less than 5 percent THC. But there are no provisions for growing, transporting, or selling cannabis legally. State Rep. Micah Gravley, a Republican and sponsor of the legislation, told local media that the law makes it difficult for patients to obtain their medicine.
“The problem is that there’s nowhere to purchase the oil here in the state of Georgia,” said Gravley. “We know it’s beneficial. We’ve seen seizures reduced, we’ve seen the easing of the effects of Parkinson’s, cancer, MS, Crohn’s, sickle cell anemia, and autism.”
Although passage of the bill is not guaranteed, it is supported by lawmakers from both parties and last month Republican Gov. Brian Kemp indicated in an interview with Georgia Public Broadcasting that he might support in-state cultivation.
“I sympathize and empathize with them on that issue, and I support research-based expansion,” Kemp said. “Thankfully, there is some research that’s going on in this field that will give us some good data that will kind of tell us how to move forward.”
Sue Rusche, president and CEO of the Atlanta-based anti-pot group National Families in Action, hyperbolically declared that growing cannabis in Georgia will lead to the legalization of recreational marijuana.
“Cultivation is the kiss of death. It leads to full legalization,” said Rusche. “Every state that has legalized marijuana for recreational use began with legalizing cultivation of marijuana for medical use.”
Virginia Galloway of the Faith and Freedom Coalition sang a slightly less alarmist tune late last year when a state panel recommended expanding the medical marijuana program and allowing cultivation and sales.
“If anyone thinks this isn’t a path to legalization, they’re deceiving themselves,” said Galloway. “The industry is going to have a vested interest in legalization because they’re going to want to broaden their market.”
License Fee Sky High
Under Gravley’s proposal, the state would issue only 10 licenses for cannabis cultivators to serve Georgia’s 8,400 (and rising) registered patients. Five of the licenses to grow, process, and manufacture cannabis oil would go to large companies, with the rest being reserved for smaller operators. Large firms would pay an application fee of $50,000, an initial license fee of $100,000, and an annual renewal charge of $50,000. Small companies would pay an application fee of $12,500, $25,000 for the initial license, and $12,500 for an annual renewal.
Ten retail licenses could also be issued under the legislation. Dispensaries would pay $10,000 to apply, $20,000 for the first year’s license, and an annual renewal fee of $10,000. Licenses would be scheduled to be approved by January 1, 2020, with licensed cannabis products being available to patients within another year.